A whistleblower who accuses two Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) officers of using federally funded helicopter operations for personal use says he faced retaliation for reporting the alleged misuse.
An employee of the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement told Hawaii News Now that the Division rents helicopters to conduct federally funded flyovers of Maui as part of its marijuana eradication missions.
But on one of those missions, two DOCARE bosses used one of the federally funded helicopters to fly to a remote part of the island for personal purposes, according to the whistleblower.
“Two of the bosses from Maui DOCARE decided to get on a helicopter and fly out to Wailua to get dropped off to pick hihiwai for our administrator’s daughter’s wedding reception,” the unnamed whistleblower told Hawaii News Now.
Hihiwai are a type of snail found in remote streams in the Hawaiian Islands.
“Our department is supposed to be the protector of our natural resources,” the source said. “The people that were in charge of this program were the biggest violators.”
According to the whistleblower, the administrator was not on the helicopter but his son was, even though his son was not a DLNR employee.
Hawaii’s DLNR investigated the whistleblowers’ claims and acknowledged that the officers did indeed take the helicopter “on personal leave,” as the whistleblower claimed, but the agency took no action because it found no violations of law or policy.
State Senator Will Espero told Hawaii News Now that DOCARE whistleblowers contacted him and told him they faced retaliation for speaking out against the personal use of helicopters to gather hihiwai.
“There are some members of the rank-and-file who feel that management and the administration basically attempted to cover this helicopter situation up,” Sen. Espero told Hawaii News Now. “My problem was that it didn’t appear as if DLNR was taking (its investigation) seriously enough.”
Sen. Espero said that the DLNR should have turned its investigation of the whistleblower claims over to the state Attorney General’s Office or Hawaii’s ethics commission, but it didn’t.